In a 2011 interview, Claire Boucher described her then-new project Grimes as “post-internet,” an attempt to put a name on the unique experience of discovering and making music in the digital age. “The music of my childhood was really diverse because I had access to everything,” she said, putting into words something an entire generation raised on Napster, SoulSeek, LimeWire, and other file-sharing programs was beginning to realize they had in common. To young producers, “everything” quickly proved to be a winning formula as the internet compressed every imaginable genre of music into an easily accessible folder.

By 2019, that optimism has long faded, and the internet’s sense of access has turned on us in ways that range from existentially overwhelming to outright terrifying. Social media has distorted reality with global consequences, giants like Spotify threaten to reduce music to Muzak one mood-generated playlist at a time, tragedies are live-streamed, and we all get battered into numbness by a feed we can’t really turn off.

By 2019, that optimism has long faded, and the internet’s sense of access has turned on us in ways that range from existentially overwhelming to outright terrifying. Social media has distorted reality with global consequences, giants like Spotify threaten to reduce music to Muzak one mood-generated playlist at a time, tragedies are live-streamed, and we all get battered into numbness by a feed we can’t really turn off.

Not long after Grimes’ 2011 interview, the album Floral Shoppe first surfaced online and everything about it felt utterly incomprehensible. Credited to the mysterious Macintosh Plus, it was festooned in garish Pepto Bismol-pink art with mint green Japanese type, a glossy cityscape, and a marble bust staring vacantly upward —the music inside only made less sense. Cheesy saxophones melted into ooze, easy listening skipped and tripped over itself like a buffering YouTube video, and vaguely human voices were slowed into breathy, bland moans. The first time I hit play in the spring of 2012, it stopped me in my tracks. I stared at my iPhone wondering if it was broken or if the file was corrupted. It sounded like the musical equivalent of a computer virus, as if all the exciting ideas at the time about “post-internet” music had soured and gone flat.

By no conventional logic should Floral Shoppe have made it beyond the deep-internet realms it emerged from. But like candy-colored mold, its power has rapidly spread while its then-teenage creator Ramona Xavier, the Portland artist now known as Vektroid, has remained an elusive figure, simultaneously a pioneer and an outlier. Her album remains one-of-a-kind in its depiction of anxiety and crisis rendered through waves of numbness that range from deeply unsettling to artificially ecstatic. Now approaching its 10th anniversary, Floral Shoppe stands as a touchstone of millennial art. Every year the world slips a little further into chaos, it only seems to make more sense.

Vaporwave, the genre Floral Shoppe came to define, is music designed to be ignored. Often built from corporate Muzak samples, it lingers in your perception, the way something might flicker in the corner of your eye. If Brian Eno conceived ambient music as something one could choose to focus on or comfortably let slide into the background, vaporwave turns that prescriptive power against the listener. It pushes you out with banality only to pull you back in, creating a trancelike state truer to the grind of daily life. As critic and early vaporwave champion Marvin Lin wrote in 2012, “It doesn’t matter whether or not you think you’re heard ‘vaporwave’ before. Trust me, you have—in hotel lobbies, in the opening sequence of a training video, over the phone waiting for a customer service representative.” For a younger generation raised in an increasingly corporatized music culture looking to rebel, creating a self-sustaining, defiantly unmarketable scene of literal Muzak feels like one of the most punk acts of this era, even if the music was anything but.

Floral Shoppe reflects a mind raised on IDM and classic Warp records. In a 2015 conversation, Xavier explained to me that by middle school, “I’d listened to all my Autechre and Boards Of Canada and Squarepusher and my Aphex. Then I tried to get into the finer points.” The album also feels like a natural progression of what was called hypnagogic pop at the time, impressionistic, hazy tunes that recalled the state between waking and sleeping. As some streamlined the style to find genuine pop success with what was cynically rebranded as “chillwave,” others looked for darker avenues.

Leading the scene with their explorations of dystopian Muzak jingles were L.A. experimentalist James Ferraro and Oneohtrix Point Never with the surreal, endlessly looped Top 40 song samples he nicknamed “eccojams.” Both are musicians whose influence is felt far beyond their divisive initial reception, but their conceptual ambitions feel small against the pure emotional impact of Floral Shoppe. The album’s sample sources include Sade, cheap New Age, Diana Ross, forgotten AOR, and the soundtrack to a Nintendo 64 game, all tuned to Xavier’s own, surreal frequency. If hypnagogic pop was often described as listening to a cassette tape melting on the dashboard, Floral Shoppe is like calmly listening to a Spotify playlist while your computer is on fire.

The album begins with “Booting,” a cut-up of Sade’s “Tar Baby” that loops like a GIF and builds into a spiraling anxiety attack. If hypnagogic pop or chillwave utilized loops as windows into a blissful eternity, Xavier cuts hers disorientingly short, turning them into walls gradually closing in on you. In its final moments, the track unspools even more violently, simultaneous slowing down further as sped-up versions echo in the background. It’s the musical equivalent of hyperventilating and it’s Floral Shoppe’s bleakest moment, broken just as abruptly by its most ecstatic.

The title to the following song, “Lisa Frank 420/Modern Computing,” fits like a mood board for Floral Shoppe as a whole, and its chirpy, euphoric groove has become its calling card. It repurposes Diana Ross’ version of “It’s Your Move,” but Xavier pitch-shifts the pop icon’s voice to a murky smear, draining its flirtatiousness and amplifying its desperation. The song is appropriately druggy, but in a way that feels more out of a necessity to insulate, a dizzying nosedive into a painful euphoria. It inadvertently recalls dub, where the mix functions as the lead instrument, building in echoes and dizzying audio pans as sounds bounce erratically from channel to channel. In a curious moment of vaporwave infecting the real-life corporate world, the luxurious track even became a viral hit appearing in countless email chains as the soundtrack to hypnotic footage of factory assembly-lines simply dubbed “The Most Satisfying Video In The World.”

Floral Shoppe’s transformative power only grows stronger as the songs it samples get more obscure, such as a handful from Pages, the unsuccessful first band from Mr. Mister co-founders Steve George and Richard Page. Their 1978 song “If I Saw You Again” aims (and misses) for the kind of chart success Supertramp were enjoying, but Xavier is only interested in its short intro, a bouncy flutter of synths and drums. It gets turned inside out over the three minutes of Floral Shoppe’s title track, where she bends and folds the sample in on itself until it becomes labyrinthine. “Library” meanwhile zeros in on the hook taken from the group’s “You Need A Hero,” turning its breathy sensuousness into a hot night in the uncanny valley. It works in other ways too, like when the panic attack which opened the album bubbles back to the surface on “Geography,” a musical snippet from N64 shooter game Turok: Dinosaur Hunter stretched to eerie, unsettling lengths.

From there, Floral Shoppe passes a point of no return. The majority of its final tracks all sample the same early ’90s New Age group Dancing Fantasy, unifying the second half into a suite. The sprawling “Chill Divin’ With ECCO” repeats faceless synth washes and empty guitar riffs ad infinitum, but the result is stunning and Floral Shoppe’s peak balancing act of banality and transcendence, like taking MDMA only to stare at a Weather Channel forecast. It’s followed by the soothing comedown of “Mathematics,” a scrambled fog of synth bleeps and pillowy saxophone that floats for over seven mind-clearing minutes. “I Am Pico” and “Standby” are both immaculate hold music, short vignettes that seem to drift even further into a faceless oblivion, before the closing “Te” anchors Floral Shoppe with a return to reality.

“Te” is the only track on Floral Shoppe without samples and hits like a breath of fresh air after staring at a computer screen too long. Its melody shows no signs of the elongated slowdown or scrambled editing that preceded it, and as birds chirp in the distance it brings a sense of peace and balance the rest of the album dismantles so expertly. It also suggests the direction Xavier would begin to move in the future. She followed Floral Shoppe with increasingly dense projects under other one-off names such as 情報デスクVIRTUAL and Sacred Tapestry that dove even deeper into Muzak before evaporating altogether. When she returned on New Year’s Day in 2013 under her earliest moniker Vektroid (the name she continues to use today) it was with “Enemy,” a 10-minute colossus of a track that brilliantly fused Muzak, industrial, IDM, and video game music with distorted vocals coming from an actual human collaborator, Moon Mirror. Abandoning samples almost completely, Xavier’s work has only grown more potent and exciting, including an ongoing hip-hop collaboration producing for Houston rapper Siddiq.

It all stands as a reminder that for the tremendous power Floral Shoppe commands, it was the work of a very talented young producer finding her voice and at times its reception threatened to overwhelm that voice. Though Vektroid has reimagined and fleshed out some of her early work, Floral Shoppe remains untouched and the Macintosh Plus moniker hangs on the shelf for good reason. Nothing could change or improve its sound which, even after thousands of soundalikes, has lost none of its perception-shattering power. Its ability to channel personal ennui, despair, isolation, hope, and stupefying overstimulation into a new musical language once felt like looking at a funhouse mirror, but years later feels as crisp as an iPhone selfie. The thing about growing up in the heyday of internet file-sharing is that for all the isolation it instilled, it was easy to forget that there really was a person on the other end of the screen. We were separated, but connected, in the same paradoxical way that makes Vektroid’s masterpiece as personal as a diary and as universal as a meme. Floral Shoppe is no longer just hers, it belongs to an entire generation.

Extracted from Pitchfork